Breakfast

Nutritional information—or what passes for it—abounds on the internet and in books that you can check out from the library, or find as you pass through the checkout line at the grocery store, but it’s frustrating. It’s constantly changing. Many—really most of us—don’t have the background in physiology, medicine, or the time to do our own detailed research to assess it. You can read the books, e.g. Good Calories, Bad Calories ( (Taubes, Good Calories, Bad Calories 2007), Why We Get Fat ( (Taubes, Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It 2010), or The Big Fat Surprise (Teicholz 2015) which are extensively researched and well documented. But it still can be confusing, especially if you want more specific information. There’s the Paleo diet, the Atkins diet, the Mediterranean diet….and even The New Atkins for a New You (Westerman and Phinney 2010). So much information, so much controversy. . .

Then there are the things that our grandmothers told us—eat your veggies, and your fruits—but the one that I remember most is that breakfast is a must-have meal. That seems to be one of the less controversial bits of advice out there. There’s only one problem—breakfast is supposed to happen when you wake up. Now, according to the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary, wake up, awake or awaken, means to “stop sleeping”. The problem is that for some of us awakening is not the same as achieving a state of functioning (“performing a group of related acts and process” according to the dictionary). We awaken, and the functioning state is bestowed later–sometimes much later and only with an appropriate amount of caffeine.

Every time I have to say whether I’m a “morning person” I face a quandary—I love early mornings—the cool part of the day, with the inspiration of the sunrise. So in that sense, I’m a morning person. Add functionality to that and there is a problem. Until I’ve had my morning cafè latte or espresso function is simply out of the question. Making breakfast requires functioning—albeit minimal. I can manage the kind of functioning required to get the espresso machine to spit out the liquid caffeine portion of my latte. Actual breakfast is another issue.

Another issue for me is that first thing in the morning, even as much as I love breakfast food, I don’t want to eat. Food? Yuck! So I have my two café lattes, and by then I should be at my computer working on the current index—breakfast gets another miss.

Every New Year (and probably again this coming one) my resolutions include eating more healthily. That would include giving my body morning fuel. Every year it goes by the wayside because of non-functioning in the morning. So I’m attuned to things that will get me food with least effort in the morning. I’m willing to admit that cooking eggs seems pretty simple, but diet-wise I doubt the nutritional wisdom of bacon and eggs daily partly from the caloric point of view.

In the winter (especially if the view from the kitchen window reveals a cold, grey, damp, day) a breakfast favorite is oatmeal (don’t DO cold cereals on a taste or nutritional basis). Specifically, I want oatmeal with some tooth to it—which really eliminates the quick stuff. I want the steel-cut, slow-cooking stuff. It’s the slow-cooking part that hurts. So I’m constantly on the lookout for things that might help me keep that New Year’s resolution—and maybe even contribute to more healthy eating (and weight loss.

If you search the web, you can find numerous suggestion on how to cook steel-cut oats—some reducing the cooking time to 30 minutes. Even with that, it’s still not in my range of morning functionality—I won’t enumerate the number of ways is possible to screw up when your functioning is barely above brain-dead.

In my recent perusal of the blogs that I follow I was delighted to see a post entitled How To Make Oatmeal in Jars: One Week of Breakfast in 5 Minutes. First of all, it promised make-ahead, and then you’ve probably gathered that I’m a fan of Ball/Mason jars so I have lots of those around.

The prep is simple (see full post for discussion and details)

  • Combine 1-2/3 cups steel-cut oats with 4 cups water, ¼ teaspoon salt.
  • Bring to boil and cook for 3 minutes.
  • Put it into jars, and when it reaches room temperature, cap and refrigerate.
  • To eat, microwave 2 to 3 minutes, add whatever you wish and eat.

My only change to this is something I’ve done for a long time when I’m cooking oatmeal—substitute milk or oat milk for 3 cups of the water and divide into 7 servings since I just don’t eat that much in the morning. The three-minute boil gives chewy kernels; I actually prefer just a bit less chew, so I boil for 5 minutes.

I like to use 1/2-pint jars for this as they will sit in a coffee mug so I don’t have to handle the hot jar or put it into something else to eat–admittedly I do at times end up taking my breakfast on my “commute” into the office and eating at my desk. (I know–not a good thing to do, but it happens when deadlines are close.) Filled only to about 2/3 there’s still room to add things on top–then this recipe works for about 7 days.

Another alternative to “quicken” up the steel-cut oats is to do an overnight soak at room temperature; Maria Speck, in her book on ancient grains, suggests that this will reduce cooking time to about 7 minutes.  My issues with this are that it requires planning ahead. Once the oats are soaked, they need to be cooked. I am, admittedly, a very temperamental, picky eater: I might wake up not wanting to eat oats for breakfast. By precooking and refrigerating, I do give myself a little leeway to be picky without throwing something out.

On more relaxed mornings, I’ll make other versions of steel-cut oats. A favorite is from Alton Brown via the Food Network. Love the toasting before adding liquid. Adding the milk and buttermilk adds richness and tanginess. His point here about stirring in the dairy does make a difference. I’ll admit to not being the owner of a true Scottish-style spurtle but a Holland-style spoodle to be a bit gentler with my steel-cut oats.

Now, for breakfast. . . a drizzle of some luscious varietal honey like French lavender, tupelo, sourwood, or maybe leatherwood, or thyme, or just wildflower or clover, or orange blossom, or maybe just some butter, or possibly milk, or…it may well depend on what I see from my kitchen window!

Ò¿Ó

Advertisements

Leftovers. . . and second servings

One of the banes of refrigerator maintenance is leftovers. I work hard to avoid them, but I’m often defeated in my efforts, especially when eating out. So often restaurant servings are HUGE, and, sucker that I am, I don’t just leave the excess on my plate.  I bring it home, tuck in into the refrigerator, and then likely at some too-far-in-the-future date I get an odoriferous reminder that I now have to do something with the leftovers, which are likely to be found in the back of the refrigerator. They will most likely be unidentifiable now, so they go into the garbage.

cat in refrigerator

lookin’ for leftovers

The obvious first step is to think carefully about bringing home restaurant leftovers: Will it reheat well enough that you really want to eat it?  After all it probably doesn’t make much difference when it gets thrown out–then or a week later. If I decide to tote it home (and I already know that the cat won’t eat it), then I need to label it, and be sure that it doesn’t end up in the back-most corner of the fridge.  I have used masking tape (which comes off easily–often too easily), Sharpies (which can be removed from some things with rubbing alcohol).  I recently found a suggestion to use dry erase crayons (which I didn’t even know existed).  Might be worth a try, but better yet for me would be to be much more judicious in what I put into the fridge as a “leftover”.

“Leftovers” from my own cooking aren’t as much of a problem, but I’m always looking for ways to use the bits and pieces of produce or the last part of that can of beans. I’ve got a handle on the bits and pieces of bags of frozen vegetables and even partially on the celery.  But there are still bits  and pieces….

The Cook’s Illustrated books on cooking for two and Joe Yunan’s book (see bibliography) is the cross-indexing of recipes that use the same ingredient so you have a suggestion for what to do with the other half  of that head of cauliflower.

I’ve found several tools to help reduce waste in single-serving cooking. First from the kitchn is an article titled What to Do With…? 75 Tips for Leftovers and IngredientsThere is a long list of things from produce market, the refrigerator, and the pantry with suggestions of what to do with the extras. For a lot, the suggestions are “freeze it” which does not necessarily solve the problem–just moves it to some point in the future; however, there are some good suggestions.

The flip side of this is throwing away things that could reasonably be used. For some examples, see 10 Foods You Should Never Throw Away. I can agree with the cheese rinds and chicken bones, but here again, I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of just changing where you stash the leftovers. When you’re doing single-serving cooking you do need to consider carefully what you bring home and what you keep.  Also useful might be Top 10 Ways to Use Up Overripe Fruit.

Another article that is useful 15 Foods You Should Freeze in an Ice Cube Tray. There are lots of other things to freeze as “ice” cubes, and the put into zipper-lock bags for freezing.  Having these portioned out can make it easier to use them. One of the things I do with excess celery and carrots is to make mirepoix (soffrito) in a big batch, then freeze it in ice-cube trays. One or two cubes will be what you need for small-time cooking–and it cuts time from preparation, and should reduce waste!

Planning use as in having thought about possibilities for that second serving (no, not meal planning–I don’t do that), and shopping with single-serving cooking in mind should help. One way to manage what gets pushed to the back is to add a triage box to the fridge.  Triage  refers to the process or sorting, or assigning priority to something.  In the fridge it would be an eat-me-first box where you put things that have a short shelf-life, or perishables so that they don’t get pushed to the back of the fridge.

 

Another use for Ball/Mason jars…..

This was just on my Facebook news feed from Savory Simple.  I have never found a travel mug that cleaned up easily…and they are not cheap!  Since I use wide-mouth canning jars for so much of my storage, I have them around in various sizes.   Definitely have to have one of these gadgets!

Storing things….

One of the problems that single-serving cooks continually face is things that change texture and colors as they languish in the refrigerator.  These are not always leftovers from the meal you cooked a week ago, or the little box you brought home from the restaurant when you couldn’t clean your plate (even though you knew then it was unlikely that you’d actually eat what was inside).  Having things “go bad” is a perpetual problem for those of us cooking for one…that head of celery, that whole head of romaine lettuce….

There are lots of tips, tricks, and suggestions that I’ve found about how to store things that plague the single-serving cooks but I’m always looking for better ways to store those bits and pieces until I can use them.   I’m always on the lookout for things that actually do work.

Ball-Mason jars for storageOne of my favorite sources for information like this is Cook’s Illustrated because they actually do experiments to find out what works and what does not.  This doesn’t seem to lend itself well to a post for each suggestion, so I thought I’d add a reference page on Storing Stuff as a place to collect information about storage methods for the things that you are likely to use as a single-serving cook.   If you have a successful method that you use as a solo cook, please post it.

Baking dishes

I think that many of us who do single-serving cooking are likely to live in smaller places, and have less drawer and counter space in the kitchen.  With storage space at a premium, we need to consider that when tempted by gadgets and single use items.  Before I buy it, or even bring home a freebie, I try to ask myself if I will really use it, and if so, how often.  Many times that item gets left right were I originally saw it, I probably don’t even miss it.

I  have a lot of cookware of various sorts, but some things are much more useful than others; some things I should give away or send to the Habitat ReStore, or even have a yard sale, since I’ve not used them in ever so long.

I was looking through a drawer the other day and found a couple of yellow plastic thingies that I may never have used–I may have gotten these for attending a Tupperware party in the (very) distant past.  I do know that the one on the left is supposed to be an egg separator.  The one on the right (especially since it’s a matching color) looks to me like a thingy that could be used to do something with an egg–scoop it out of hot water, or hold eggs when you are dying them (not likely–too broad on the arms), perhaps? (Why use that when I have a slotted spoon?)  I think that I may have tried the egg separator once, but usually I  either use the shell halves or my hand–why wash a gadget when it’s just not necessary?  (I’m a firm believer that hands are meant to do more than hold implements in the kitchen.)  I try not to have similar kinds of dishes around, because that really takes up storage space.

Just as I’m supposed to be able to multitask these days, I like multiple use things in my kitchen.  I try to stay away from “disposable” items, too.  I’ve already mentioned that I use Ball/Mason jars for storage containers for both pantry and refrigerator, and I’ve mentioned the cast-iron grill/griddle (which can double as a broiler pan); there are some basics that see a lot of use in the kitchen almost every day.

My most frequently used baking dishes are not fancy–most were obtained from the hardware store or the grocery store–while doing the every-day activities of keeping house and cooking for one; I did not have to go look for them in specialty stores. I’m sure a kitchen/cooking website like Cooking.com would have these basics as well.  I like glass so that I can use them in the gas oven or in the microwave oven–again, space savers.

One of my favorites is a Pyrex rectangular baking dish with lid that I’ve had for ages and ages.  Should I ever break it, it will take more to replace it than just a dish and a lid.  It’s a small covered baking dish just the right size for about four chicken thighs to roast (on top of the right amount  potatoes and/or other root veggies) with a lid which has ridges and a lip on one side (raised and smooth on the other) which works so well for cooking bacon in the microwave because it allows the fat to drain away (no, I don’t cook it on paper towels, though I do use a paper towel to cover it with). The glass lid fits well enough that it can also be used for storing  in the refrigerator.

Another favorite is (also Pyrex) narrower baking dish (also with lid) that is just about the right width for single lasagna noodles so that I can have two servings.  This one has silicone seal with vents in it so that you don’t have glass-on-glass contact.

Both these are a great size for cooking for one, allowing for some  “leftovers” that can be used in other recipes, but not so large that there is too much space for baking or roasting.

I do have a larger and smaller oven-safe dishes (mostly Pyrex) that have plastic covers for storage.  Of course, any kitchen must have the usual rectangular and square baking dishes and pans (the “usual” 9×9-inch and the 9×13-inch, but those get used much less frequently.

Another favorite of mine is a large round covered dish  (yes, Pyrex) with a multipurpose lid.  It has good wide handles on both the base and the lid.  The lid has done duty as a pie plate for me several times.  It’s a bit bigger than you average pie plate, but it’s got the right slant and approximately the right depth.  The lid can also serve as a shallow baking dish.

I do have some Emile Henry bowls and oval baking dishes that see a fair amount of use, but some colored glazes cannot be used in the microwave; the plain glass or the white seem to be the real workhorses in the kitchen: oven, freezer, microwave, and refrigerator for storage.

I also have bowls that have vented plastic lids for use in the microwave so that I don’t have to reach for the plastic film every time I want to nuke something.   The vents can be opened for microwave use, and then closed for storage.  The plain bowl can do cooking and serving duty which is a real space saver, and a real cleanup help. The white bowl (below left) is also one with a vented lid for microwaving, baking, or refrigerator.

One of the most-used for my single-serving cooking at breakfast time and when soup is on the lunch menu is another with a vented plastic lid that is microwave safe. The cup (right) is just right for cooking single servings of hot cereal in the microwave.  The vented lid means no plastic film wrap is needed.  Admittedly some mornings I feel like I should use that cup for coffee because it bigger than the average coffee mug.

No matter what you’re cooking, it’s important to have the right size container. In baking or roasting, just as in stove-top cooking, too large and food will dry out; too small, and there’s an oven mess to clean up, or food is too confined and steams rather than roasts. In the microwave the right size and arrangement of food is also important.  Cooking that breakfast cereal in a container that is too shallow can leave you with a really nasty mess to clean up–not a good way to start the day.

One of the things that is so important about food is good flavor, no matter if it’s for a crowd, or just a single serving.  It always should be a son goût!

Storage containers

One of the perennial problems with liking to improvise, and wanting to have a well-stocked pantry is that one person uses things more slowly than you would cooking for a family of four.  I think that it’s important to store supplies carefully in closed containers rather than bags or boxes which can let some interesting beasties into your staple supplies.  For years, I carefully cleaned and saved glass jars and their lids.  Great solution?  Well–until the lid loses its seal.

Then what do you do?  My solution was to buy some Mason  canning jars (Ball or Kerr) with wide mouths, in the pint and quart sizes.  They are inexpensive, and lids are  no longer a problem.  The same lids fit all the jars, so I’m not standing around with a jar full of something and trying to find a lid to fit.  The rings last, and last–a bit like the Energizer bunny–and you can replace the seals as needed!  I think that my kitchen shelves even look rather nice…but then I kind of like a homey look.

If your pantry space is cramped,  the wide-mouth jars stack well!  Another advantage of the wide-mouth jars is that a 1/4-cup dry measuring cup will fit through the mouth of the jar easily–so you can dip and measure from the easily. Got to store that 10-pounds of rice that was such a great price?  Well the same lids will fit the half-gallon jars.

With some minimal additional equipment you can even put food by in these same jars–just be sure that you have new lids  if you’re going to use them for long-term preserving of foods.